HARRIES, JOHN, Church of England clergyman and office holder; b. 1763 in Wales; m. Phoebe – , and they had nine daughters and one son; d. 22 Jan. 1810 in St John’s, Nfld.
Ordained in Wales by the bishop of St David’s in 1787, John Harries served a short period as curate at Camrose and at St Martin’s Church, Haverfordwest. On 16 April 1788 he was assigned, by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, to Placentia in Newfoundland, in response to a request by the principal inhabitants for a clergyman, whom they promised to support. Prince William Henry, who had visited the area in 1786 while on naval duty, had added his petition and also given 50 guineas and a handsome set of communion plate towards a church.
Upon his arrival in Placentia in 1788 Harries found only 120 Anglicans in a summer population of 3,500 in the town and nearby outports. The district was dominated by the Roman Catholics, and thanks to the efforts of Father Edmund Burke (fl. 1785–1801) many Anglicans had been converted. Harries lamented that “the Protestants of Placentia are nearly all proselyted” and noted that “no controversial pamphlet on Roman Catholicism can be distributed with safety.” Anglican worship had been kept up in the court-house prior to Harries’s arrival, and the building of a church begun, but the settlers had not even a surplice available for the missionary. Moreover, collections from the congregation for his support raised only £23 in 1788, as compared to £300 from Burke’s parishioners. Governor Mark Milbanke obtained Harries free board and lodging by appointing him chaplain to the garrison in 1789, but Harries was evidently disappointed with the smallness of his emoluments. Thus when in 1790 the financially more appealing St John’s mission became available, Harries made a successful application to be transferred there. By the time of his departure from Placentia in 1791 he had visited Fortune Bay and had started a school at Burin. In addition, the church at Placentia, complete with bell and spire, had been finished.
Harries arrived at St John’s on 10 May 1791 to find the church “in a very ruinous situation.” So cold was the building in winter that his congregation preferred to worship with the Methodists or Catholics, whose churches were warmer. However, the Congregational preacher John Jones*, described by Harries as a “very exemplary, pious, old man,” allowed the Anglicans the use of his chapel while Governor William Waldegrave settled disputes about the site of a new church. A grant of £400 from the SPG and 200 guineas from King George III secured its completion in 1800.
Harries constantly worried about money, even though he was well paid by the standards of the time. In 1794, for instance, he received £74 as deputy chaplain to the garrison, £70 from the SPG, £50 from the government, and £30 16s. 3d. in collections, and five years later the total increased by £30. The money was, however, insufficient to meet the demands of his large family. He lived in a dilapidated two-room house, attempts to obtain funds by public subscription failed because of the opposition of enemies whom he described as wild fanatics and “still more dangerous infidels,” and his family often went hungry. Of his ten children, three predeceased him.
Despite these handicaps, Harries was an active missionary. He visited Harbour Grace several times in the absence of other clergymen, went down the coast to Bay Bulls and Ferryland, and even ventured as far as Harbour Breton. At St John’s he competed successfully with the Methodists but not with the Roman Catholics, and lamented that the latter had a bishop, James Louis O’Donel, able to perform confirmations. Harries also undertook some official duties as a magistrate, and as custos rotulorum from 1803. He died of consumption, a scourge which carried away his two eldest children in Newfoundland and others later. After his death his widow and family were assisted by the SPG and went to England.
USPG, C/CAN/Nfl., 1–3; Journal of SPG, 25–30. [C. F. Pascoe], Classified digest of the records of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701–1892 (5th ed., London, 1895). Prowse, Hist. of Nfld. (1896).